Board balks at four-day work week discussion

The East Feliciana Parish School Board blocked a full discussion Tuesday on allowing Slaughter Elementary School to stay on a four-day work week by stripping the item from the agenda on a split vote.

The board voted 10-2 last month to return to a five-day work week for students, staff and teachers, but board member Ben Cupit wanted Slaughter Elementary to stay on a four-day schedule.

The four-day schedule would have been the same as that of Slaughter Community Charter School, which will have grades 7-10 next year. The school’s state funding is routed through the parish system, but its board is autonomous.

Members Broderick Brooks and Rhonda Matthews moved to approve the agenda without Cupit’s agenda item, but board President Michael Bradford halted the voting roll call as soon as Melvin Hollins dissented.

Bradford thought a unanimous vote was needed to change the agenda, but District Attorney Sam D’Aquilla then entered the meeting and said the unanimous vote is needed to add something to the agenda, not to remove an item.

Paul Kent, Hollins and Cupit argued against curtailing a discussion properly placed on the agenda, but they were outvoted by Brooks, Matthews, Bradford, Olivia Harris, Richard Terrell and Rufus Nesbitt.

Mitch Harrell joined the meeting after the vote, and Debra Haynes and Beth Dawson were absent.

Hollins said he would have voted against Cupit’s idea but he believes board members should not play “political games” with the agenda.

Chrissie O’Quin, a charter school board member, said earlier on Tuesday the four-day week assists in teacher recruitment and retention, reduces teacher and student absences, allows for more uninterrupted, concentrated instruction time, saves money and helps families in scheduling medical appointments and extracurricular activities.

“Our experience with the four-day week has been positive, and there is no compelling reason to change a system that works,” said O’Quin, who has a doctorate in education.

Slaughter Elementary School has pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and grades 1-6, while Clinton Elementary and Jackson Elementary’s do not have sixth-grade classes.

The board voted 6-4 to realign Jackson and Clinton’s elementary schools to include the sixth grade in the 2014-15 school year.

Harris pushed for the realignment, saying it would be more consistent to have the three elementary schools with the same grades.

Terrell argued against the idea, saying no one has shown the move will be cost-effective.